Way cleared for inquiry into police force
Motion establishing Disciplined Services Commission passed
By Patrick Denny
May 17, 2003
The National Assembly yesterday completed the arrangements for an inquiry into the Guyana Police Force and other matters when it unanimously approved a motion to establish a Disciplined Forces Commission
The commission is to be appointed by Monday and complete its task within six months of its appointment. However it is required to give priority to the inquiry into the operations of the Guyana Police Force and to submit an interim report to parliament within three months. Its findings and recommendations accepted by the National Assembly are to be implemented within a specified timeframe to be determined by the President and the Leader of the Opposition.
The motion was moved by Education Minister Dr Henry Jeffrey and seconded by PNCR back-bencher Vincent Alexander at the Ocean View Hotel Convention Centre sitting. It provides for the Commission to “have all the powers and authority of a Commission of Inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act Cap. 19:03 including being able to call witnesses to testify before it.
The amendment to Article 197 A (5) of the Constitution at Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly so empowered it.
In moving the motion Dr Jeffrey stressed that the inquiry should not be seen as a witch-hunt but as a process whose objective is to enable the Disciplined Forces to successfully confront contemporary challenges.
Dr Jeffrey, referring to the commission’s terms of reference that requires it to look into the racial composition of the Defence Forces, asserted that communities will only have confidence in the Police if they feel that they are being adequately protected.
Alexander in supporting the motion recalled that in 2001 his party had tabled a motion calling for an inquiry into the Police Force that was never put on the Order Paper and was happy to give support to the motion. He pointed out too that the PNCR was happy to have the commission address the problem of the racial balance in the security forces as long as it did not mean a departure from promotion being determined by merit.
ROAR’s parliamentarian, Ravi Dev who also supported the motion expressed concern that priority was being given to addressing the symptoms rather the systemic problems of the Force.
Dr Jeffrey in responding to the debate assured him that such an approach would be taken in compiling its final report.
Dev contended that from its inception in 1839, the Police Force was structured to ensure that it acted against the interest of the citizens and a review of its operations was long overdue.
He recalled that the PNC administration in 1973 had requested the International Commission of Jurists to conduct an inquiry into the racial composition of the Defence Forces. He said that successive administrations had neglected to address the issue which has come back to haunt the country now.
Dev stressed that the establishment of a commission to examine the ethos of the operations and to ensure its transformation to one that serves and protects the interest of the people is necessary especially in a society as severely divided as present day Guyana.
The motion provides for the Commission, in regard to all the services, to among other things pay special attention to the changing context of their operations; methods and processes of achieving greater ethnic balance, the relationship with and responsibilities of the civilian authorities, their operational efficiency and effectiveness including inter-service cooperation and collaboration and financial and public accountability.
In relation to the Police Force, the motion provides for the Commission to examine and make recommendations on among other things:
*The composition, structure and function of its operations bearing in mind
(a) The changing nature of crime and the influence of the trafficking in illicit drugs and firearms, illegal migration and money laundering.
(b) The relevance of the recommendations of the International Commission of Jurists particularly with regard to racial imbalance in the Force in today’s reality
(c) The rules of engagement, including manuals of procedure and operation
(d) The origin, course and development of allegations of:
(i) Extra-judicial killings, summary executions and the involvement of sections of the Guyana Police Force in illegal activities.
(ii) Political interference in the administration, management and conduct of the Force with reference to the Constitution, the Police Act 16:01 and all other relevant laws.
(e) Attacks on the Police Force and the shootings and killings of members of the Force.
The commission is also required to make recommendations as to how the Police can generate increased public support and confidence by improving police/community relations, the functions and operations of its Office of Professional Responsibility and the Public Relations Department.
The commission will look at the terms and conditions of employment of the members of the Force, their remuneration, training, accommodation, criteria for promotion, discipline, equipment and logistical needs.
It will also look at the location and staffing of police stations and outposts, particularly in the hinterland within the context of changed demographic and other relevant considerations.
The President will appoint the chairman of the commission after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and two other members, taking into account the need to consult broadly. The Leader of the Opposition will appoint the other two members and has to consult broadly as is required of the President.